by Tayce McQuaid
Although for many years, the west has persecuted Shamans all over the world, it would seem that, in a twist of irony, those who have been persecuting are now desperately reaching out to those indigenous ‘magic-men’ from around the world. In such uncertain times, offering balance in an unstable environment is proving to be increasingly alluring to those who, not long ago were made uneasy by that which they didn’t understand. Could it be that the west is opening her eyes to new possibilities, or is she characteristically grabbing what she wants and destroying centuries old methods in her path? What are the implications of looking at the east through the eyes of the west? This review will look at three articles, with three examples of ‘east meets west’ scenarios in an attempt to make a judgement on this topic.
2.0 SOUND – TRANCE – HEALING – THE SOUND AND PATTERN MEDICINE OF THE SHIPIBO IN THE AMAZON LOWLANDS OF PERU
In this article, Rittner describes the time she spent with the Shipibo tribe of the Amazon. In total, staying with three tribes, she was able to work with ten shamans and participate in their healing rituals as well as interview them. She was interested in the use of ayahuesca in healing along with the use of Icaros (songs used to heal during ayahuesca ceremonies) (Rittner 2007).
2.1 SHIPIBO AYAHUESCA CEREMONIES
The Shipibo tribe, like other South American tribes, use ayahuesca, a hallucinogenic plant to enter an Altered State of Consciousness, however unlike other tribes, the Shipibo embrace the strict idea that only the Shaman himself is to consume the ayahuesca. They believe this is important as the Shaman has control of this altered state of consciousness (la concentración) and can guide himself through the vision and, ultimately, heal the patient. Along with ayahuesca, the Shaman will use Icaros, often specially crafted for the individual, to clean the patient, and remove the dark mist known as the níhue (Rittner 2007).
2.2 SELF-APPOINTED AYAHUESQUEROS
While she was in Peru studying the Shipibo, she came to realise how few Shamans (known to the Shipibo as medicos or ayahuesqueros) were left among the Shipibo with the traditional training. Traditionally the Shipibo were a self-sustained people, surviving off plants – fruit and vegetables they had grown themselves along with fish and meat that they had hunted. But due to the population growth in Peru, these resources became unavailable close to cities, and the Shipibo became entirely dependent on money. The women’s beautiful patterned arts are sold and men are forced to work – one of the best-paid jobs available to them is as a Shaman, and therefore there are many self-appointed Shaman’s practising, especially due to tourist demand (Rittner).
Unlike the traditional Shipibo Shamans, these self-appointed Shamans, aiming to please the western tourists allow their ‘patients’ to experience ayahuesca first hand, often guiding forty people at a time (Rittner).
3.0 COMPLEMENTARY THERAPY FOR ADDICTON : “DRUMMING OUT DRUGS”
In this article, Winkelman discusses a recent interest in western medicine, involving shamanic drumming to treat patients, generally (but not exclusively) recovering drug-addicts with evidence from his own observations of these drumming circles, along with interviews with the directors of the programs (Winkelman 2003).
3.1 ACTIVITIES OF A DRUMMING SESSION
In each programme, the activities each have an emphasis on self expression, but differ slightly in presentation. While Mikenas uses simply the drums, introducing more complex rhythms along the way, Seaman adds chanting and singing activities with the drums, along with call and response activities to connect the group. Eshowsky however involves much more than just singing, with a combination of storytelling, journeying, and healing, dancing and spiritual divination, along with group ceremonies. He teaches others to journey by themself, as well as using shamanic journeying himself to find out information about the patients (their power animals, their spiritual intrusions), which can later be used in rituals with their family. Smith also uses a wide variety of activities in the treatment of his patients, including yoga, breath work, work with music, mask-making and addressing family-dynamics. He also practises soul retrieval, exorcisms and work with power animals, focusing on the idea of ‘re-birthing’ the person (Winkelman 2003).
3.2 EFFECTS OF A DRUMMING SESSION
While the activities of each of these sessions are varied, the effects are incredibly alike. After a drumming session, patients have achieved a sense of calm through an altered state of consciousness and have often achieved insight, allowing them to assess their problems and work through them. There is also an emphasis of feeling ‘at one with the earth’, spiritually awakened or changed (Winkelman 2003).
4.0 HALLUCINOGENIC DRUGS AND PLANTS IN PSYCHOTHERAPY AND SHAMANISM
>> Hybrid Shamanic Therapeutic Rituals
In the article, Hallucinogenic Drugs and Plants in Psychotherapy and Shamanism, Metzner writes about a modern phenomenon in the west, which he describes as, “Hybrid Shamanism” or “Neoshamanism” (Metzner 1998).
In such rituals, the basic elements of the drug-induced Shamanic ritual remain the same, such as the circle structure of the group, an alter and fire in the centre along with low light, music, drumming and an experienced leader or guide. Most of the participants are experienced in some form of shamanic meditation or journeying. The aim of the circles are varied however those with experience in the use of entheogens spend great amounts of time before a ceremony in order to make clear their intentions of the journey, which is followed by a sharing of intentions by those in the group. Following the ritual, often the next morning the group will share their experiences and the outcome of the trance the night before (Metzner 1998).
Metzner explains that many of the westerners who continue with these ceremonies, while not completely disregarding western science and medicine, come to accept the reality of nonmaterial spirits and beings, and the concept that we live in multiple worlds of consciousness (Metzner 1998).
These three articles each discuss a different example of how the west is incorporating eastern concepts into its day to day life. In Peru, westerners are influencing the young men in the Shipibo tribe to allow their unique traditions in order to survive physically. Back in the west, drumming circles are allowing patients who once had no hope for recovery onto that very path and in small groups all over the western world; people are practising their own hybrid versions of shamanic rituals in order to heal. It seems that while the west can certainly benefit from eastern healing traditions, care needs to be taken to make sure ancient traditions live on for the world to enjoy in the future.
Metzner, R 1998, ‘Hallucinogenic Drugs and Plants in Psychotherapy and Shamanism’, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, viewed 26 March 2009, http://herbarium.0-700.pl/biblioteka/Metzner%20-%20Hallucinogenic%20Plants.pdf
Rittner, S 2007, ‘Sound – Trance – Healing – The Sound and Pattern Medicine of Shipibo in the Amazon Lowlands of Peru’ Music Therapy Today, VIII, viewed 26 March 2009, http://www.musictherapyworld.de/modules/mmmagazine/showarticle.php?articletoshow=209
Winkelman, W 2003, ‘Complementary Therapy for Addiction: “Drumming Out Drugs”’ Journal of Public Health, http://www.public.asu.edu/~atmxw/drumdrugs.pdf